BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – In the aftermath of a natural disaster, a need for blood always rises.
But, a growing number of the population is not allowed to donate without jumping through hoops.
However, a rule from 1980 keeps about four percent of the population from donating.
“In 1985 when HIV was a dreaded unknown kind of disease, it was uniformly deadly. We didn’t have any treatment for it. There was an indefinite lifetime deferral put in place for anyone that seemed at risk for having HIV,” says Rita Reik, CMO of America’s Blood Centers.
The FDA bans gay men from donating blood.
Reik says the center is currently studying today’s risk factors for this growing population. She hopes to lift the ban.
“The idea being is it possible to change this policy,” she says.
That lifetime ban from 1985 was shortened to a year of celibacy in 2015.
But, in response to the COVID pandemic, that was shortened again to three months in 2020.
“We have to be a bit patient, because when the decision is made, it will most likely stand,” Reik explained.
She says the study is halfway finished, and she has a call to action for south Louisiana.
She wants to get men between the ages of 18 to 39 to participate in the study.
Here’s why. In March of last year, East Baton Rouge Parish had the second most people living with HIV in the state, behind Orleans Parish.
And south Louisiana is still high on the list when it comes to new HIV diagnoses.
Per capita, Baton Rouge comes in fourth nationwide behind Miami, Atlanta, and Orlando.
In 2019, the Louisiana Department of Health showed nearly a quarter of new infections in Louisiana were found in women. 77% of that number were Black women.
There is good news. Since 2015, new HIV infections have decreased steadily in Louisiana.
This has mobilized Baton Rouge Pride to get people into this study.
Leaders hope to widen their data set and lift the ban sooner.
“We need to break that stigma. Having a deferment or a ban on men who have sex with men donating blood. It really propelling that stigma forward,” says Christopher Bradford, co-chair of Baton Rouge Pride.
He says this deferral is creating stigmas for people who are already marginalized.
“It’s hard because let’s say that I have a family member that needs blood. I can’t donate blood to save their life,” Bradford said.
For men, like Christopher, who are in married or in monogamous relationships, they would still need to be celibate for 90 days before donating.
Reik says times have changed, and that our regulations need to adapt.
“Old time deferrals etcetera, not to say there was anything wrong with them at the time, but, they need to change with the times if indicated. And the times have definitely changed for HIV,” she said.
Baton Rouge Pride is offering free HIV testing and plans to help with blood donations when the ban is lifted.
“That’s a lot of blood out there. So, just like we do HIV testing at Pride or any other LGBT event, or a gay bar. We could also do blood donations,” Bradford said.
“You know most people in the United States are eligible to donate blood but only three to five percent of them actually do,” Reik said. “So, any help that we can get with keeping our blood supply healthy and available is much appreciated.”
Preliminary results from the study are expected by the end of the year.
Thousands are expected to be at the Raising Canes River Center Baton Rouge Pride’s event “Living Out Proud” on June 25.
The organization plans to sign up as many men as possible. If you’d like to sign up directly, click here.